Database Name: dbwzecoixet92g parenting-with-wonder-podcast-notes – A Dad’s Path

Transcript: #50 – Parenting with Wonder


Today we interview Melinda Casey, a Waldorf teacher and parenting coach. She’s a proponent of “Parenting with Wonder.” We discuss what that means and other tips and ideas from Melinda.

During the conversation, we discuss:

  • How to get out of the reward/punishment mindset

  • What parents should do more with their children

  • The biggest mistake Melinda sees parents of young kids make

  • The #1 preschool classroom item to get for your home

  • How to set family values with young kids

  • The difference between Montessori and Waldorf educations


Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast platform. Like this episode? You can check out more of our Dad Podcasts.


Will Braunstein, A Dad’s Path:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of A Dad’s Path Podcast. I’m Will Braunstein. Today, we’re speaking with Melinda Casey, who’s a Waldorf preschool teacher and parenting coach. Her coaching practice is called Parenting With Wonder. Welcome Linda.

Melinda Casey, Parenting with Wonder:

Hi. Thank you so much for having me, Will.

Will:

Thanks for coming. We’re really excited about this. In the past we’ve spoken to Montessori educators, and you’re a Waldorf teacher, which is a little different. Tell us about Waldorf. What’s the difference between the two?

Melinda:

Waldorf education has been around 100 years. It was founded in Stuttgart, Germany by Rudolph Steiner. I would say the big difference with Waldorf education compared to Montessori is Waldorf education is community-based.

         And what I mean by that is, you kind of move as a unit together in the day. And so we are working, when we’re outside, we all come inside together. So it’s kind of like this flowing river. And with a Montessori, it’s a little different, it’s more individual-based.

         And so the children are working on activities on their own and a teacher can help them, but it’s a little bit different in that way, I would say. But we still are looking at the child and their developmental needs and meeting them where they are.

Will:

Both are sort of curiosity or play-based, or I should say, not focused on hardcore learning at this point. Is that correct?

Melinda:

Yeah. So in early education, we would say we consider early education zero to seven. And in that time it’s really play-based. And so we are just encouraging children in their free play. Waldorf world, it’s very imaginative creative thinking happening. And which opens up bigger capacities later on, I would say.

         There isn’t a big emphasis yet. And the reason is everyone reads at some point, typically. So the focus really is on movement, getting their bodies to move because they need that when they’re so little. If you ever tried putting a five-year-old at a desk, it doesn’t work very well. So yeah.

Will:

The one thing that I struggle with, with my kids or especially my youngest one is teaching manners. I agree, I’m very much more like, hey, have fun, play, but, say please, say thank you. I mean, is that teaching? You know what I mean?

Melinda:

Well, here’s my thought on that. This has really been brought to me within the last few years, is like, you’re not teaching at the children. You want to draw it out from them. So it has to come from their own will, right? Otherwise, it’s just not authentic.

         And you want them to have this authenticity when they’re saying thank you and please, it’s not just as they have to say it. So it’s a lot of modeling.

         Showing them that when you’re talking to them, you’re saying please and thank you, and you are really modeling it for them as well. And I’m sure you do, but sometimes as adults we forget that, oh yeah, I also need to have my manners with my children.

Will:

We talk about that a lot and it’s really annoying that kids don’t do what we say, they do what we do, right?

Melinda:

Yeah. It’s so true. There’s that James Baldwin quote, and I shared that with Danny. It was, “Children are really good at not listening to what we say, but imitating what we do.” Right?

Will:

No, absolutely. Absolutely. And Danny is the person who introduced us, Melinda and I, and he has a DC 360 podcast. You guys should check out too.

         So quick shout to Danny, but while we’re talking about, kids following what we’re doing, when you talk to parents, when you see parents and you see a lot of them, what’s something you think parents should do more of?

Melinda:

I think we’re so quick to react to our children. And their behaviors and behavior is a communication. Your child is probably tired, hungry, something, over stimulated. So I would encourage parents to, before they react to a behavior is to really take a moment and like, what’s really happening here?

         Is my child hungry? Are they hitting because they didn’t eat all their breakfast this morning and now it’s time? And so maybe at that moment you would say, “I think that you’re hungry. You should go get you some food.” Instead of saying, “Don’t do that.”

         And of course hitting isn’t ever a good thing, but if we can remember that behavior in children is a communication, I think it makes being a parent so much, not to say easier, but it makes your path a little smoother.

Will:

That’s really a great quote, behavior is a communication. Like so many things, it’s true for adults too, right? And then when it happens with our kids, one we’re surprised and two it’s like, we’re so much older than you and we still have these issues. So it’s totally unfair to expect that you’re not going to.

Melinda:

That’s it. And digging deep into yourself and knowing like, okay, I have these moments as well. I’m not above it. And so being able to connect with your child on that I think is huge.

Will:

Yeah. Yeah. The ability to apologize and that sort of thing, it seems to be important. So you spent a lot of your time with parent coaching. Can you talk about kind of what that looks like, how you would typically start with a family? What the first move would be?

Melinda:

Yeah. So the first kind of initial, I just want to find out goals really, what’s the goal in the parenting journey and so what’s happening and where can I help? And then I set up the family values.

         We create a family values and that’s where the whole family comes together and we sit down and maybe it’s your four year old saying I value playtime or any of these things. And everyone comes together and everyone has a voice. And I think that’s really important when you are trying to create something that reflects the whole family.

Will:

So our values, I mean, I know values are difficult to understand, well, for a lot of us, but certainly for a four year old. So I understand I value playing.

         I also have a seven year old, so what I want him, because he understands the idea of valuing his family, valuing having a loving family, but he also values going to the zoo, right? So is it both those things? Should the list be half and half?

Melinda:

That’s a good question, Will. We value going out together as a family. We value experiences as a family, which is a great thing to value as a family to go out and value hiking or whatever it might be. So we kind of make a general list and everyone throws everything up and then we extract from that and pull out 10 values and these values can change every year. Okay.

         They don’t have to be set in stone, but it’s something that you can reference and you can go, okay, maybe someone isn’t having kind language in the house and you can say, “We value our kind language in our home, remember?”

         And so they can remember that meeting or remember I made a little, I painted something and gave it to this family so that they can have it. And obviously with smaller children, it might be pictures. So we could draw what that value might look like.

Will:

Right. No, I like that. And I think your point is right on. It’s just important to codify it somehow, right? Because we always forget things or so you type it up, print it out, or like you did do something beautiful, you paint it or draw it, but make sure that everyone’s engaged and understands the values.

Melinda:

And it’s a good springboard. It’s a good way to, okay, this is where we’re going. And just a reminder, right. And then from there I do one-on-one coaching sessions and then at home, if I’m near you, if you’re here in local to Salt Lake City, then I can come and spend some time and do in the moment coaching is what I call it.

Will:

Interesting. Now that’s very helpful. And I think you said you start with goals, right? What are the goals? And I guess I’d be curious, there’s probably some pain point goals like we’re shouting too much or X or Y or Z, but then we’re at a eight.

         Our family’s really, really, really good, but we’re not an 11 and we want to be at 11. Is that sort of what you’re seeing? What are people telling you what their goals are and why they’re engaging with you?

Melinda:

Yeah. I think a lot of parents are getting stuck in a mindset of punishment/reward and they’re looking for something different because it doesn’t work. It might work on the surface, but in the end it’s not a very good way to go.

         And so the idea of seeing your children for who they are and really knowing them and giving them space and not reacting to every little thing, and I’ll give you a silly example of this. My son, I told you he’s 11. I have an 11 year old, a nine year old and a 16 month old.

         So I have a full home, but I had just gotten these mortar and pestles for my classroom. And I had them out in my kitchen, was going to bring them the next day to the class and I let them put lavender in it and grind up the lavender. And then later on in the evening I found that there was honey in it.

         And I was like, who? And you could feel that anger rushing in, right, like who did this? And then I started going up the stairs, but someone was just being curious and someone was trying to maybe make lavender honey and didn’t realize you probably shouldn’t put it in there.

         So I walked up there and I said, “Who was making lavender honey?” Instead of who ruined this or who did this? And the thing is it wasn’t ruined. I washed it out and it came right out. It was like, I think sometimes we get upset and then we realize, oh, I mean, why would I be mad about that, because he was being curious and just experimenting.

         And there’s a lot of things I think as parents we get mad about because we’re just on the edge sometimes, right? And we’re like, oh wait, if I take a breath, if I take a moment and really think about, have that curiosity and wonder then I can maybe not get mad about this and just encourage him next time to use something different. Yeah, everything doesn’t have to be a power struggle.

Will:

That is great. You keep using that word curiosity, which I think is illuminating. I mean, because that is what you should be is, “Hey, what’s going on?” And then you also keep saying that our behavior is a communication.

         Those two things go together pretty well. So you’re curious, hey, what are they saying? Not just why are they saying it like this? It’s more like, why are they saying?

Melinda:

Yeah. And children also we know are just very curious beings in general, right? And a lot of times they do stuff and it’s very, it wasn’t intended to be a bad thing, it just happened. I mean, in my classroom I would never yell at a child. We don’t do that. We don’t yell at the children.

         And so I really try to bring that also into my home. I wouldn’t yell at them because I don’t yell at the children in my classroom, but not to say I don’t. It happens sometimes. Well, I’m a human, we all are.

Will:

We all are. We all are. Well, speaking of your classroom actually, in terms of physical things in your classroom, are there items you think that would be helpful for parents that you think would be good for them to have at home?

Melinda:

I think with children, they really want to, especially when they’re so little, I’m thinking preschool age children, they want to be doing what you’re doing. And so I would encourage you to have small brooms. My 16 month old will take a broom when she sees me sweeping and she’ll wipe the tables. So they are watching everything you do when they’re little like that.

         And they want to be doing what you’re doing. So if you can have the patience and capacity to let your child chop some vegetables, when they see you working in the kitchen. A lot of times children are scooted out and not included in. And I think the more we bring them in, even if it’s just five minutes, that’s so nourishing to them. Right.

         They just need the five minutes of chopping vegetables with dad, right. And then I can go back to do my thing. I think if you just give them that, it’s also again, easier for you because then they might go off and play or do something and feel nourished from that time with you.

Will:

Those are great examples. And I do love engaging young kids and using that as a way to teach. So like you’re saying, I could be cutting vegetables and just describing what I’m doing. So my little one’s hearing the words and also we’re connecting. I’m not trying to be a teacher, but I think it’s helpful all around.

Melinda:

You are a teacher though. You are your child’s first teacher. That’s the thing though, parents are teachers. And that’s why for me, it’s such a partnership really with the parent, working together.

Will:

What’s, in terms of the partnership, if you’re partners, what’s the biggest mistake you’ll see a parent making that maybe is reflected in school, or maybe it’s not reflected in the school, but just a mistake in general?

Melinda:

Okay. I think there’s two things. Giving our children so many options when they’re little, they don’t need all the options. They don’t need to know, what shoes are you going to wear… These are all very big questions that can feel very overwhelming. And so when you’re a child and you’re like, what do you want to wear today, or what do you want to eat today?

         Well, actually you need to make those choices. You need to say, this is what we’re eating today, because that feels really comforting to them. They to know they’re cared for, right. And so they don’t have to make those big choices and there will be a time when they can, but I think when they’re little, when we give them all the choices of what cereal do you want, it’s a lot.

         I would say, just have a cereal out and say, we’re eating this or you can have this. There could be two choices and that’s enough, or even this is what we’re having today and that should be enough. And so with that as a boundary too. And so I think that parents have a hard time holding boundaries.

         And when I say a boundary, it’s really a firm and loving boundary. It’s for example, let’s say you’re at the store and your child is saying, “I really want this toy.” And you’re like, “Nope, we’re not getting the toy. We just got a toy a couple days ago.” And let’s say you are really holding that boundary and you’re saying, nope.

         And then your child is like, well, I’m going to have a tantrum, right. I’m going to explode right now in the store. In that moment, I would actually just scoop up the child and leave the store and just be like, I’m going to come back when we’re in a better situation.

         So it’s loving because it’s coming from a place of love and from your own self, right. And the child is having a hard time obviously, like overstimulated, really wanting this toy. And I would say just scoop them up and go and come back again. Because I think sometimes we think all these things have to happen, but honestly, sometimes that’s the best thing is just to go.

Will:

No, I love that. That’s right on because again, we’re thinking, hey, you three year old, why aren’t you acting like me? I’m a mature 35. I’m not, I’m like 40, but it’s like you’re not even close to have developed a brain and my job is to be teaching you.

Melinda:

And my job’s to help you, right. And a lot of times when things like that are spinning out, it’s probably because of the, right, hungry, tired. So you can also think about all those things leading up to it, and did my kid get enough sleep last night?

         And it’s probably not a good idea to be here. So just holding the boundary I think is so important. And that can be also with clothing, with eating. I would never make a child eat all their food, but I would encourage them to try a bite. We call it in our preschool, we say fairy bites.

Will:

Oh, that’s a great word. Yeah.

Melinda:

Or a brave bite, take a brave bite. And sometimes they’ll take a brave bite and love it.

Will:

Those are great terms. I haven’t heard those. I’m going to try those, fairy bites and brave bites.

Melinda:

Yeah. And that’s the thing too, well, like is if we work with images with our children. So when I say images, I mean using our imaginative capacity like telling stories, telling stories from when you were a child. When I was a kid, I used to, they love those things. They love to hear stories that we tell them.

         Or you can tell a story about a squirrel who didn’t eat all its food and got really hungry. Children respond to these images and they’re really in that imaginative world still. I just took a therapeutic storytelling class pretty recently and we talked a lot about that and how stories are healing and can help children.

Will:

Yeah. One of those things that, when you said it a light went off it’s so obvious, but I didn’t sort of connect it in my head, both with trying new foods, but also in general how they think.

Melinda:

I was going to say, I have an example when my daughter was in preschool and she was being a baby eagle, right. Instead of saying, it’s time to clean up your room. I came in and I was mama eagle and we cleaned up the nest. And so if your children they’re being a puppy or something, use that imaginative bone that maybe you lost along the way a little bit.

Will:

And it’s good for us too, to work that muscle as adults. And talking of story time, one question we get a lot is about bedtime and of the craziness around everything going on and a big struggle. Could you give us some advice on what you’ve seen work or not work in terms of successful bed times?

Melinda:

Honestly, if you can keep it the same every night. And I know a lot of people do this, they really do, but I would say depends on where you’re at. So this is like the ideal situation, right. You start, you brush your teeth, you get your pajamas on. I don’t know what order other people do it, but in our house, I’ll just give an example.

         So children get on their pajamas, brush teeth, they’ve been bathed and they get into bed. And we read a story every night and that’s just been our tradition and they love it. They still love it, my 11 and nine year old, but we’re reading Harry Potter right now so it’s very exciting.

         It’s been that way for so long that it just works pretty well. It’s kind of a no fail in our home right now, but make it as ritualistic as you can. And what I mean by that is maybe light a candle, maybe sing a song, make it special.

         Maybe have some bedtime tea, that used to be a thing when mine were pretty little that I would just get them sleepy time tea. And they would have a little tea and then we would read a story and they would go to bed.

Will:

Right, right. Yeah. No, absolutely. No, absolutely. And just to end on the magic note, you’re reading Harry Potter and then you also taught a camp or something on magic?

Melinda:

Yeah. We just had a summer camp at my school and I ran it. It was magic camp for preschoolers and we spent a lot of time outside making potions and I encourage this too. Get messy in your yard, let your children get messy, because they really love to experiment and play.

         And so we are not afraid of the mud at Waldorf. I mean, I would pick my children up from preschool and they would just be mud everywhere and I’d be like, “Oh, you had the best day today.” So yeah, just have that curiosity and imagination.

Will:

Yeah. I’m a big proponent of magic tricks for kids just because it’s, you do the trick.

Melinda:

It’s a wonderful way to get their attention too.

Will:

Right, it gets their attention. And then it’s a great sort teaching tool they’re seeing, wait, how did this happen? So they’re seeing not everything is as it seems, especially when you show them how it happened. So they have to think a little critically there.

         And in my experience, the kids are also excited then to do the trick for other people, right. So then they’re learning performance a little bit, some confidence to talk in front of other people. And then also not everything is explainable. I don’t know how this happens because as parents, that’s something we say.

Melinda:

That’s a good one to have. You don’t have to answer all your kids’ questions. You can just say, I wonder. And let them figure it out. We’re so quick to answer questions for our children, but the curiosity of giving them the space to learn about these things is huge and it creates a bigger capacity for them.

Will:

Absolutely. Pause and like you keep saying, be curious. Well, thank you, Melinda, for joining us. This has been really wonderful. Again, you can reach Melinda at parentingwithwonder@gmail.com and thanks again.

Melinda:

Thank you so much, Will.

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